December 31, 2006 12:00 PM

More than 8,500 fans packed James Brown Arena in Augusta, Ga. to say goodbye to the Godfather of Soul in his last funeral on Saturday. The four-hour ceremony was both reflective and raucous, with a heartfelt speech by Michael Jackson and an energetic dance by MC Hammer.

Brown, wearing a black suit, red shirt and sequined shoes, was laid in a gold-plated coffin. About 20,000 mourners filed past the body throughout the day.

The ceremony began with a video retrospective of Brown’s career, complete with singing of his signature hit, “I Feel Good.” His band, the Soul Generals, performed many of Brown’s classic songs. When they sang “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” MC Hammer danced onstage to a standing ovation from the audience.”

Later, a tearful Jackson told the crowd that Brown had inspired him to become an entertainer. “James Brown is my greatest inspiration,” he said softly, “When I saw him move, I was mesmerized…James Brown, I shall miss you, and I love you so much, and thank you for everything. God bless you.”

Tommie Ray Hynie, Brown’s estranged companion, sang “Hold On, I’m Coming” to the crowd, before kneeling beside the coffin to kiss a red rose and place it on Brown’s chest. Despite making a scene after being evicted from Brown’s home last Tuesday, Hynie has apparently been admitted back into the inner circle. Reverend Al Sharpton urged the audience to applaud Hynie, saying “I want everyone to come together.”

Sharpton recalled one of his last conversations with Brown before he died. “He said to me, ‘No matter what, I believe in God. And I know God believes in me.’ And on Christmas night, he stepped from mortality into immortality. God needs to let James Brown sing tomorrow morning during Sunday worship in heaven.”

As the funeral wound to a close, Brown was awarded an honorary doctorate from Paine College, a historically black school in his hometown of Augusta. After the benediction, Brown’s family and friends got into black Lincoln town cars and headed off for another private remembrance for Brown.

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